Music Therapist Brian Schreck Makes It Possible For Dying Patients to Hear Their Own Heartbeats
Music therapist Brian Schreck makes it possible for dying patients to hear their own heartbeats like no other human can. He uses a unique technique to record the internal rhythms of a patient’s pulse and lungs breathing, then creates songs from these recordings.
For many, the familiar beat of a human heart can be just as soothing and comforting as a metronome – and now Cincinnati Children’s music therapist is using it to help people cope with illness and loss. This collaborative process began in 2013 when they established a music therapy program at their neonatal intensive care unit to offer support to terminally ill children.
Schreck, a music therapist, has an expertise in palliative care and end-of-life issues. He has worked with patients who have passed away due to cancer or those battling terminal illnesses in the Intensive Care Unit.
The percussionist-turned-musician draws inspiration from a patient’s heartbeat, which can sound similar to an instrument in a song. He uses this recording as the starting point for compositions that range from hip-hop tunes to original lyrics.
He’s taken great care to capture the sounds of children’s breath, which can sometimes resemble a hummingbird, and use them in his compositions. Additionally, he often collaborates with families on songs that celebrate a child’s life, including ones for funeral or memorial services.
Parents of children receiving hospice services at Cincinnati Children’s have been particularly moved by Schreck’s work. His compositions provide a sense of connection for families and an opportunity to share musical memories with their beloved.
Some of these recordings have been played at the funerals of children who have passed away, and their parents report that it helped them process their grief. One parent of a girl suffering from an uncommon brain tumor said her daughter’s funeral was the first time she heard her heartbeat.
It’s an incredibly touching story and it illustrates that nothing can replace the loss of a child, but music therapy can be an important part of dealing with grief. The music therapist’s work with Kelly Marsh-Welton – a mother who lost her 9-year-old daughter to cancer in 2014 – has inspired other music therapists to adopt this technique.
Music can be a powerful coping mechanism that can reduce stress and anxiety, as well as enhance cognitive abilities. It also serves to release tension, soothe feelings of anger or sadness, and bring about healing from these experiences.
Music therapists have long been known to play classical or folk music to those suffering from early stages of dementia. Studies have even demonstrated that using music can improve moods and reduce distress levels among patients with Alzheimer’s disease.